By Jeffrey Sparshott
The head of the nation’s biggest business lobby inveighed against presidential candidates singling out immigrants, ethnic or religious groups, highlighting divisions among supporters of the Republican establishment and the party’s leading candidate Donald Trump.
“There are the voices, sometimes very loud voices, who talk about walling off America from talent and trade and who are attacking whole groups of people based not on their conduct but on their ethnicity or religion,” Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a speech on Thursday. “This is morally wrong and politically stupid.”
When asked if the comments were specifically about Mr. Trump, Mr. Donohue said they applied to any one of the candidates from the right who “stepped over the boundary” on issues such as immigration and trade.
“They lost track of who we are and what we stand for and how we fix this economy,” he said.
But the remarks closely echo similar comments from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans who have pushed back against of Mr. Trump’s policy prescriptions on immigration and security.
Mr. Donohue and the chamber typically stay out of presidential elections but often weigh in on behalf of Republican candidates in other races. One of the group’s top priorities this year is maintaining what it calls a “pro-growth majority” in the Senate–in other words, retaining GOP control. Already last July, it had started running ads in support of four Republicans seeking to keep or win Senate seats.
Indeed, Mr. Donohue was critical of the Obama administration and Democrats who want to “double down” on spending, entitlement, tax and regulatory policies that the Chamber believes are holding back the economy.
But the presidential race, and much of the rhetoric emanating from it, have clearly given businesses pause. Mr. Donohue called the unfolding election “damn serious and sometimes a little scary.”
“We are in the middle of the most surprising and perplexing presidential campaign in modern history and I would say in both parties,” he said.